Woody Paige, of the Denver Post, recently interviewed the Broncos' new head coach, John Fox. One of those quotes from that interview have served to add fuel to the Orton/Tebow/Quinn debate:
"I [Fox] prefer a gamer to a good practice player. . . . I want someone who will execute under pressure in a game."
Many have seen this as a clear endorsement of Tim Tebow as the starter. The argument being that Tebow is a "gamer" while Orton is a "practice player." The pro-Orton fans have pointed to Fox's past propensity for starting experienced players ahead of younger ones as a sign that he will most likely opt for 7th year Orton over 2nd year Tebow. Throughout these discussions, Brady Quinn has barely merited a mention or two.
Yet, I'm left wondering if the situation is as cut and dried as either side in the discussion would like to believe. Let's take a jump and take a slightly different look at the discussion.
In that same interview with Paige, Fox also made these comments:
"We've got three quarterbacks who have started games in this league. I know that quarterback is the top priority in Denver — and there's a reason why they are so important because the great ones are so hard to find — but I like the problem of having three to pick from."
In addition to performance under pressure in a game, two other "measuring sticks" for a starting quarterback that Fox listed were "leadership" and "understanding the system."
From these comments, Paige speculated that "It seems, then, that Fox would have to watch how Orton, Tebow and Quinn play in exhibitions before making a decision."
Paige then points to Fox as having three things he would be looking at before committing to a starting quarterback: leadership, understanding the system and seeing the three candidates playing in exhibition games. I will be touching on the first two briefly before spending the majority of our time with the final point.
I've not seen a description of the kind of leadership that Fox is looking for in his quarterbacks. The closest thing I've seen is the oft-repeated quote from above in which Fox says he prefers a "gamer." Yet there are many ways for a player to be a gamer, many ways of being a player who "executes under pressure." A quarterback could show leadership through the dynamic energy of a Jake Plummer. He could just as easily show leadership through the almost unflappable calm of a Peyton Manning. Both are effective ways to lead and we do not know which, if either, Fox prefers. All three of Denver's quarterbacks have shown leadership capabilities in both college and the NFL. All three have been NFL starters. Orton has the distinction of having been elected as a team captain by both the Bears and the Broncos. I was not able to find any record of Quinn having been elected a captain by the Browns. Tebow has not had enough time in the NFL to win such an accolade. My guess would be that Fox will be looking to see which of the three can best rally the offense around himself and elevate the level of play in the other ten players on the field. He will need to see them perform in the preseason games to best see who has the strongest leadership capabilities.
Understanding the System
This is another spot where the choice could go in just about any direction. The retention of Mike McCoy as Offensive Coordinator suggests that there will be some continuity with the offensive scheme under Fox. Fox has alluded to the notion that Denver will be running "the most sophisticated running game" in the league, so we can anticipate changes, but overall, I would suspect that the scheme will remain more or less the same one that has been in place. Given that the wide receivers, running backs and offensive line corp are relatively unchanged, I would not expect McCoy to make major changes in the terminology of the offense nor in the playbook. Should that prove to be true, I would think that Orton -- being in his third year in the system -- would have a slight edge over Quinn and Tebow who are in the second. It will be interesting to see to what degree Tebow's work ethic and Quinn's determination to compete for the starting position will offset Orton's longer tenure with McCoy and the offense.
An aside about Quinn
Brady Quinn recently went public with statements to the effect that he is looking forward to being allowed to truly compete for the starting position, something which he does not believe held true under McDaniels. This may just be the venting of a frustrated competitor. But it would not surprise me if there was not more than a grain of truth to it. If you think about it, McDaniels had much more invested in Orton and Tebow than in Quinn. In 2009, McDaniels pulled the trigger on the Cutler trade which netted him Kyle Orton as part of the package. Having just jettisoned a first round quarterback whom many believed to be the future of the franchise and having just brought in a fourth round quarterback with a questionable history, McDaniels needed to show that he could bring Orton up to a higher level in order to rebuild his credibility. If we're fair about it, McDaniels did in fact pull that off. In 2009, Orton set career highs for Completion Percentage, Yards, Yards per Attempt, Yards per Game, Touchdowns, Quarterback Rating, Pass Plays of 20+ yards, and Pass Plays of 40+ yards. When Chris Simms tanked as a backup, McDaniels traded for Brady Quinn -- who had played in a Notre Dame offense similar to McDaniels'. Quinn then had the pleasure of seeing McDaniels wheel and deal in order to land a McDaniels-coveted quarterback in NFL Draft. As with Orton, McDaniels had a great deal invested in making sure that Tebow could be successful in the NFL -- given that many people believed that he was making a rather large reach to obtain Tebow. So, Quinn suddenly found himself sitting behind not one, but two quarterback on whom the head coach had staked a great deal of his reputation. It would not surprise me at all to discover that Quinn was not, in fact, given the same chance to compete for the starting position as the other two. It was not so much then a case of Quinn failing to earn a higher spot on the depth chart as it was a case of McDaniels having too much riding on the success of Orton and Tebow.
Looking at the Preseason Performance
Given the length of the lockout and the amount of official practice time that has been lost already, I'm inclined to agree with Woody Paige in that Fox will most likely wait -- no matter what his initial impressions are -- to see how each of the three quarterbacks will perform in the exhibition games. This is, perhaps, one the key reasons that I do not believe Kyle Orton will be traded (be sure to check my track record on this kind of prediction -- I predicted that the Broncos would opt to keep Brandon Marshall. LOL ). I'm not inclined to believe that Fox wants to go into training camp and the preseason with just two quarterbacks, neither of whom have been with the team for more than a season. If, heaven forbid, Tebow or Quinn were to be injured -- ala LenDale White -- it would leave the Broncos in a rather desperate situation in regards to the quarterback spot.
That being said, I found myself wondering how the three competitors have fared in their previous preseason games. Using box scores available from espn.com, I found the following information (the quarterbacks are simply being presented in alphabetical order by last name, with no attempt to "rank" their preseason performances):
Drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 4th round (106th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft.
2005 - Orton rushed 4 times for 7 yards; a 1.8 yards/rush average; his longest run was 6 yards.
2006 - Orton rushed 3 times for -8 yards.
2007 - Orton rushed 1 time for 5 yards.
2008 - Orton rushed 1 time for -5 yards.
2009 - Orton rushed 2 times for 3 yards; his longest run was 4 yards.
2010 - Orton did not have any rushing attempts.
Drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 1st round (22nd overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft.
2007 - Quinn rushed 1 time for 2 yards.
2008 - Quinn rushed 4 times for 17 yards; a 4.3 yards/rush average; his longest run was 11 yards.
2009 - Quinn had no rushing attempts.
2010 - Quinn rushed 4 times for 10 yards; a 2.5 yards/rush average; his longest run was 6 yards.
Drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 1st round (25th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft.
2010 - Tebow rushed 6 times for 31 yards; a 5.2 yards/rush average; he scored 1 TD; his longest run was 14 yards.
Let's take a moment and put all three players' preseason statistics side-by-side:
We can see that we have three quarterbacks whose past preseason performances have been very similar. Tebow definitely shows that he has the advantage in most of the statistical categories. However, he also has the smallest sample set by a wide margin. It will fall upon him to show that he can not only maintain but improve on his rookie performance. A sophomore slump in training camp and the exhibition games could be a major setback for his hopes of becoming a starter.
If all three of these quarterbacks remain on the roster (that is, if Orton is not dealt to another team), and all three have similar preseason performances, I could very easily see Fox choosing to go with Orton and utilizing Tebow in specific settings -- much like McDaniels did in 2010. Quinn would most likely end up in the 3rd spot again. Though, conceivably, if Orton and Quinn bring their "A-game" and Tebow falters at all, I could see a depth chart of Orton, Quinn Tebow -- though I think that this would be the most unlikely scenario of all. If all three remain, I would expect there to be a strong competition with Orton and Tebow falling #1 and #2, but which player in which spot is debatable at this point.
If Orton is dealt, and if Quinn and Tebow have similar preseason performances, I could see the starting position going to either player. Quinn would have the edge in actual NFL game experience, while Tebow has shown a stronger performance in his previous preseason performances than Quinn. In fact, I could easily see a scenario unwinding that is very similar to what happened with Quinn in Cleveland -- he's given the chance to be the starter, but as soon as it doesn't go well, he gets pulled in favor of the backup.
A final thought -- a scenario I've not seen bandied about: I wonder what are the chances of a dual-quarterback system being put into place ala, McNabb/Vick in Philadelphia. Personally I don't see it happening, but with the personnel we have, I don't see why it couldn't be a possibility.